The California Air Resources Board (ARB) is one of the world’s most important promoters of electromobility.
The agency’s zero-emission vehicle (ZEV) mandate requires that 2.7 percent of new cars sold in the state this year be plug-in (or fuel cell) vehicles. That percentage is scheduled to increase every year, reaching 22 percent in 2025. The ultimate goal is to force automakers to phase out legacy ICE vehicles entirely, at least according to a recent Bloomberg profile of ARB chief Mary Nichols.
“If we’re going to get our transportation system off petroleum,” says Nichols, “we’ve got to get people used to a zero-emissions world, not just a little-bit-better version of the world they have now.”
Governor Jerry Brown has set a goal to reduce California’s greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050. Meeting that goal will require dinosaur burners to be off the road by that time, and given modern cars’ long lifespans, that means they need to start disappearing from showrooms around 2030.
Needless to say, the ZEV regulations are under more or less constant attack by the automakers, although few of them are willing to criticize them in public (with the notable exception of Fiat Chrysler, whose CEO, Sergio Marchionne has asked consumers not to buy his company’s Fiat 500e EV). “There’s a reason Chrysler is the perennial No. 3 of the Big Three,” Nichols told Bloomberg.
Nichols, who first joined ARB in 1975, isn’t intimidated by auto executives and their dire predictions about new technology. Catalytic converters, seat belts and airbags are just a few of the government-mandated improvements that automakers have fought against tooth and nail.
ARB’s policies have influence far beyond California. Nine other states have adopted the ZEV standards, and Nichols is currently advising the Chinese government about how best to implement its pro-electromobility policies.
“There are only a handful of people who’ve had the impact on clean air Mary has had,” says former EPA head Lisa Jackson. “She’s implemented policies that are models for the world.”